‘God help this country:’ Lebanon in limbo as PM-designate Hariri quits

‘God help this country:’ Lebanon in limbo as PM-designate Hariri quits
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Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meeting with Prime minister-designate Saad Hariri at the presidential palace on Wednesday. (AFP)
‘God help this country:’ Lebanon in limbo as PM-designate Hariri quits
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Lebanese Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri arrives at his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 16 July 2021

‘God help this country:’ Lebanon in limbo as PM-designate Hariri quits

‘God help this country:’ Lebanon in limbo as PM-designate Hariri quits
  • President rejects 24-member cabinet lineup
  • Angry protests spread as pound hits new low

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri stepped down on Thursday, citing “key differences” with President Michel Aoun after nine months of political wrangling that failed to form a government for the crisis-ridden country.

Following his second meeting with the president in the past 24 hours, Hariri announced that “Aoun’s position has not changed.”

The two men held their 19th meeting on Wednesday, with Hariri presenting a lineup for a 24-member cabinet.

“God help this country,” Hariri said. “Aoun requested fundamental changes to the cabinet lineup I had presented to him on Wednesday, related to the naming of Christian ministers. He told me that we would not be able to reach an agreement.”

Aoun’s office hit back in a statement, saying that Hariri “was not ready to discuss amendments of any kind.”

The president said he would set a date for binding parliamentary consultations as soon as possible to assign an alternative figure to take over the task of forming a government.

Following Hariri’s move, the Lebanese pound hit a new low and was selling for higher than LBP20,000 to the dollar on the black market.

The resignation and the sharp rise in the price of the dollar sparked angry protests that spread in Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli and Baalbek.

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Protesters destroyed restaurants and cafes and expelled customers from these establishments in the southern city of Tyre.

In Beirut, streets were blocked and there were clashes with soldiers in the vicinity of Beirut Arab University, leaving some injured.

In Tripoli, there were repeated calls through loudspeakers for people to take to the streets.

Relations between Aoun and Hariri were under great strain because of the political differences and disputes between the president and his political party, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), on one side and Hariri’s Future Movement on the other.

Dr. Harith Suleiman, an academic and political writer, said he was not shocked to see Lebanon reach this impasse as Aoun had been “hindering all attempts” to form a rescue government for the past nine months.

“Aoun does not want Hariri to head the government and is insisting on giving the blocking third to himself and his political party to be able to sack the government whenever he feels like it,” he told Arab News. “He wants the blocking third to be solely given for his party, without Hezbollah, because he does want Hezbollah to be able to apply pressure in case it was to support a presidential candidate other than the FPM’s candidate, Gebran Bassil.

“It is not easy now to name a well-respected Sunni figure who would resist Aoun and his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, to form a government that would stop the collapse. Bassil wants a premier who would be willing to work for him and take his orders.”




Lebanese army take cover behind shields as they deploy during a protest in Beirut on Thursday after PM-designate Saad al-Hariri abandoned his effort to form a new government. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)

Regarding the failure of foreign pressure to reach a solution in Lebanon, Suleiman added: “We will remain hostages until the conclusion of the American-Iranian talks in Vienna. How can foreign countries ask us to save ourselves while we are hostages? Can the kidnapped rebel against their kidnappers?”

Former lawmaker Fares Souaid said Aoun was still in the presidential palace “only because of Hezbollah.”

“In the confrontation of political forces, the public opinion and the Arab and international decision-making bodies, the situation is worse than dangerous,” he added.

The US State Department said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken would discuss with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian the efforts exerted to address the situation in Lebanon, adding that “Lebanon’s leaders must form a government able to carry out reforms to end the crisis.”

FASTFACT

Aoun said he would set a date for binding parliamentary consultations as soon as possible to assign an alternative figure to take over the task of forming a government.

On Thursday, the US ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea and her French counterpart Anne Grillo handed a joint letter to Aoun from Blinken and Le Drian in which they stressed “their countries’ interest in the Lebanese situation” and “the need to form a government soon to address the critical situation that Lebanon is facing.”

France on Thursday reiterated its commitment to supporting the Lebanese while sources said that French presidential envoy Patrick Durel met Mohamed Raad, head of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc, on Wednesday night.

During a celebration on France’s national day, Grillo addressed the Lebanese and said: “This celebration is held this year in the context of the solidarity that we have been expressing to you for several months, and especially after Aug. 4, 2020, the day of the Beirut port explosion. 

“Once again today, I am reiterating to you that France, the French people, and the French residents in Lebanon will always support you. The situation today is urgent and pressing. France has always sought to gather support for Lebanon. At the initiative of the French president and with the support of the UN, a third international conference to support the Lebanese people will be held on Aug. 4. This date will constitute a new milestone ... following the two previous conferences that helped raise €250 million ($295.07 million) for Lebanon, including €80 million from France.”


France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’
Updated 03 December 2021

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he hoped there would be progress on the Lebanon crisis in the next hours.
“We will do all we can to re-engage the Gulf regions for the benefit of Lebanon... I hope the coming hours will allow us to make progress.” Macron said during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Lebanon is facing a diplomatic crisis with Gulf states, spurred by a minister’s critical comments about the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen that prompted Riyadh, Bahrain and Kuwait to expel Lebanon’s top diplomats and recall their own envoys. The UAE withdrew its envoys.


US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
Updated 03 December 2021

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
  • Planned changes to district boundaries could affect nine members of Congress who have a record of voicing support on Palestinian issues

CHICAGO: Nine members of Congress who have been vocal critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians could face tougher re-election campaigns as a result of their districts being redrawn, an analysis by Arab News shows.

Every 10 years, the dominant political parties in many states re-draw district boundaries based on demographic data provided by the US Census, which does not count Arab and Muslim Americans as a separate category.

Where population shifts have led to proposed boundary changes, incumbents may be forced to stand in new districts. That’s the challenge facing Illinois representative Marie Newman, who won election in 2020 in the 3rd Congressional District, which has the largest concentration of Palestinian American voters.

Newman has chosen to face-off with Sean Casten, who is very strong on climate change, in the new 6th District rather than stand against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is one of only two Hispanic congress members in Illinois, in the 4th District. Casten is a strong supporter of Israel and silent on Israeli violence against Palestinians, while Garcia has often joined Newman to support pro-Palestinian legislation, including voting against a bill giving Israel $1 billion for its Iron Dome defense system last September.

“Rep. Newman was supportive of the push to create a second congressional district of Latino influence and understood that doing so would mean the need to shift boundary lines of existing CDs in the Chicagoland area,” Newman campaign spokesperson Ben Hardin said.

Describing the challenges as “inevitable,” Hardin said: “Representative Newman is grateful … to have the support of so many people here in Chicago’s southwest side and in the south and west suburbs, including a strong coalition of supporters from the Arab and Muslim American community.”

The new Illinois district map was approved by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, one of Israel’s strongest advocates, in November. Pritzker aroused anger among Arab Americans after refusing to apologize for disparaging remarks he made in a 1998 congressional race in which he accused a rival of accepting money from a Muslim group that Pritzker asserted supported terrorists.

“There is no doubt that the Illinois Democrats are seeking to undermine Newman, who has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights,” said Hassan Nijem, the president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.

“She and Chuy Garcia are the only Illinois Democrats to defend Palestinian rights and recognize our growing community.”

The Illinois primary has been delayed from March until June 28, 2022, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to Newman and Garcia, seven other members of Congress who voted against the Iron Dome money could be affected by district changes.

They include Cori Bush of Missouri; André Carson of Indiana; Raúl Grijalva of Arizona; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a Republican Congressman who consistently votes against all foreign aid regardless of the recipient.

Tlaib, Pressley and Omar are members of the “Squad,” a group of progressive Democrats that includes New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Instead of voting against the Iron Dome funding, however, AOC voted “present” not taking a position.

In Michigan, which is holding its primary on Aug. 2 next year, mapmakers are proposing to re-draw Tlaib’s 13th district, increasing the number of African American voters. That could be important even though Tlaib defeated several African American candidates when she first ran and won office in the predominantly African American district in 2018.

Tlaib may be forced into a new district against pro-Arab Democrat Debbie Dingell. However, she could survive as the Michigan process puts remapping in the hands of an independent commission rather than partisan politicians. The final Michigan remap might not be completed until late January.

Also in Michigan, proposed changes would pit Jewish Democratic Congressman Andy Levin, who has been an outspoken supporter of the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, against Brenda Lawrence.

Minnesota congressional remapping plans have targeted Omar and another pro-Palestinian Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, although maps in those districts have not been finalized.


Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
Updated 03 December 2021

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
  • They posed as Iranian dissidents and smuggled bombs into the Natanz facility disguised as food
  • Israel had pledged to never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons

LONDON: Agents from the Mossad convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities by “posing as dissidents” and smuggling explosives disguised as food into facilities, according to reports.

According to The Jewish Chronicle, Israeli agents convinced up to 10 scientists to destroy the Natanz nuclear facility, wiping out 90 percent of its centrifuges – crucial for research into nuclear weapons.

They are said to have smuggled some explosives into the plant in food lorries, while others were dropped in via drones and picked up by scientists – who they convinced to use against the nuclear sites by posing as Iranian dissidents.

The attack on the facility is just one of a long line of Israeli sabotages of Iranian nuclear facilities, a strategy that they have engaged in more as Iranian nuclear research has progressed.

The Natanz facility, a critical nuclear research site, has been hit by at least three attacks linked to the Israeli secret service, the Mossad.

In another incident, agents used a quadcopter drone to fire missiles at the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company in an attempt to disrupt its research.

In recent years, following the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iran has increased its atomic energy research, including enriching growing quantities of uranium above the levels required for civilian nuclear activity such as energy production.

In April Iran said that it would start enriching uranium up to 60 percent after the attack on its Natanz plant which it blamed on Israel – that is closing in on the 90 to 95 percent enrichment required for nuclear weapons.

This week – much to the ire of Israel – Iran and the US returned to the negotiating table to try to find a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for relief from crushing economic sanctions imposed on the country by the US and its allies.

But on Thursday, Israeli officials called on the US directly to cease those negotiations.

In a phone call with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called for “concrete measures” to be taken against Iran.

He said that Tehran was carrying out “nuclear blackmail” as a negotiation tactic and that “this must be met with an immediate cessation of negotiations and by concrete steps taken by the major powers,” according to a statement released by his office.

The Israeli leader also expressed his concern about a new report from the UN, issued during the US-Iran talks in Vienna, which showed that Iran had “started the process of enriching uranium to the level of 20 percent purity with advanced centrifuges at its Fordo underground facility.”

Israel, the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, has pledged never to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.


Lebanon information minister resigns

Lebanon information minister resigns
Updated 03 December 2021

Lebanon information minister resigns

Lebanon information minister resigns

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Information Minister George Kordahi has officialy submitted his resignation on Friday to “give Lebanon a chance.”
“I will resign this afternoon,” Kordahi earlier told AFP. “I do not want to cling to this position, if it can be useful, I want to give Lebanon a chance.”
An official at the presidency confirmed to AFP that President Michel Aoun had received a call from Kordahi confirming he would submit his resignation.


UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour

UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour
Updated 03 December 2021

UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour

UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour
  • Macron arrived in the early hours of Friday for a brief Gulf tour where he will also visit Qatar

DUBAI: French President Emmanuel Macron met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on Friday at the start of a two-day Gulf tour that saw France sell the UAE 80 French-made Rafale warplanes for $18.08 billion (€16 billion). 
France’s Defense Minister said the deal was France’s largest-ever weapons contract for export while the Minister for the Armed Forces hailed the deal as "historic."

There was no immediate confirmation of the deal from Emirati officials. Macron was greeted at the leadership pavilion at Dubai’s Expo site for talks with Sheikh Mohammed.
“I don’t want to reveal the Christmas present” before the meeting, UAE presidential adviser Anwar Gargash told journalists in the build-up to the talks in Dubai.
Macron arrived in the early hours of Friday for a brief Gulf tour where he will also visit Qatar, host of next year’s World Cup, before traveling to Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
The UAE, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Thursday, is expected to order dozens of Rafale jets to replace its Mirage 2000 aircraft acquired in the late 1990s.
The Emirates is the fifth biggest customer for the French defense industry with $5.31 billion (€4.7 billion) from 2011-2020, according to a parliamentary report.
Macron is accompanied by a large delegation in Dubai including Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Defense Minister Florence Parly.